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Opinions of Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The ghost and my water supply meter

By George Sydney Abugri

It was the seventeenth day since the Ghana Water Company cut me off from water supply. I rose early and addressed the water tap in the kitchen: "For seventeen days now you have not issued forth a single drop of the precious fluid of life, without which no living organism can survive. Seventeen days is too long a time for a water tap to stand idle among other numerous taps gushing forth large volumes in nthis community. Today, I go into battle for your sake or rather mine"

After some initial diffi¬culty, I sought out the branch office of the Water Company in charge of my part of town. I eventually found myself in a large room with several officers work-ing behind desks. The man behind the desk I made straight for happened to be the officer in charge of revenue collection.
“I am a water bill payment defaulter…” I began.
“I beg your pardon?”
"I have come to pay my water bill".
He pushed aside stacks of bank notes on his desk and picked up a receipt book.
"…I have been cut off from supply for seventeen days now," I added.
"Oh, a disconnection? Then you will have to see the gentleman over there", he pointed to another of¬ficer behind a desk at the far end of the office. I moved over to that officer.
"I have been cut off from water supply for the past seventeen days. I am coming to make the neces¬sary payments for a reconnection".
He examined my bill. A look of great surprise came over his face.
"No, it can't be. You have not been discon¬nected".
What is this man up to, I thought to myself. Even a moron knows when a tap is not flowing, doesn't he? Does this man think I do not know how to turn on a tap or what?
If by "you have not been disconnected", this man meant my limbs and joints' were still wholly intact and in place, in spite of my having been cut off from water supply then he was darned right. If however, he meant that the water supply to my place had not been disconnected, then he was wrong of course.
"Look, there is a tap in my place. I tell you that I have been cut off from supply and you say I have not been cut off. I don't think I understand you".
He waved my bill in the air.
“This is your August bill. No one had the right to disconnect your supply line when the exercise to disconnect defaulters be¬gan. Besides we have cut off only consumers who owe from 20,000 cedis upward.
“Your bill is 5,000cedis. The task force responsible for disconnections has a list of defaulters and you are certainly not one. That is why I am sure you have not been discon¬nected. There is a road contrac¬tor engaged in rehabilita¬tion works in your area. His workers might have tampered with your supply line. It is the only ra¬tional explanation".

This officer then instructed a workman armed with a bag of tools to investigate the matter. If the Water Company had motor vehicles for repairs and maintenance, they were probably de¬ployed somewhere at the time. It became my respon¬sibility to get the workman to my place and back to the Water Company’s offices.

Now, I had discovered that in disconnecting supply lines to defaulters, the Water Company’s task force would remove a unit called a “washer” located be¬tween the supply stop cork and the metre. This “washer” which resembles a miniature roll of cello tape, was then placed on the metre's glass face and the metre cap put back in place.

The moment the workman who accompanied me raised the metre cap, there was the tell-tale washer sitting on the glass face of the metre. The workman looked a bit wor¬ried. "You have been dis¬connected." I nodded grimly. There was no point in saying "I told you so" The workman fished out some tools from his bag and water supply was restored in 12 seconds flat.

"I don't know who com¬mitted this mistake and why it happened to only you," said the workman. Whatever his name, the ghost who monkeyed with my metre certainly did a good job.

Back at the Ghana Water Company’s of¬fice, the officer who had sworn that I could not have been cut off, greeted us with a confident smile and a “…you have not been discon¬nected". It was difficult to say whether he was ask¬ing a question or stating what he believed to be a matter of fact.

Before I left with the workman several of the officers had heard my com¬plaint and all were new anxious to hear what had gone wrong. "He was dis¬connected", said the workman. The smile left the face of the officer in charge of reconnections. Then this young fellow at a desk in the far corner of the room, God bless him, said aloud. "Unlawful disconnection". One of the more seniour staff glared at him, but I was nodding thoughtfully as if the young fellow had just uttered some secret uni¬versal truth.

As I left, the officer in charge of reconnections said in a dull tone, "sorry for the inconvenience". l do not know of the bit about this man being sorry. Inconveniences there had been galore:

Heaps of unwashed linen and utensils for days on end, not enough water to flush the WC, Long hours spent looking for water like a housewife in Northern Ghana in the month of December and having to take a bath with less water than a village boarding school boy in some parts of Northern Ghana would use dur¬ing peaks of water scarcity in the dry season.

{I know areas in the Upper Fast, Upper West and some parts of the Northern Region where people still consume wa¬ter the colour of straight coffee or Lipton tea without milk.}

Yet after subjecting me to these and other inconve¬niences for nearly three weeks this officer settles the whole affair with only four words: Sorry for the inconvenience!

That night, I had a dream. In this dream, my water supply had been cut off for seventeen days. I went to the offices of the Ghana Water Company to make a report.
“Prepaid metre..?” the revenue officer asked me
“What..?”
“Prepaid metre..?”
“Never heard of him. Who is he, and what has he got to do with my water supply?”
“I am talking about a prepaid metre for your water supply.”
That was when I woke from the dream in alarm. If ghosts could monkey around with my post-paid water supply meter so that I was cut off from water supply for seventeen days, would he not do worse with a prepaid , metre?

{The author is Editor-in-Chief of the General Telegraph}
Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/Web
Email: editing@sydneyabugri.com